Can the GOP go green? Reconnecting with Nixon’s legacy

January 29, 2015

“Air and water pollution, already acute in many areas, requires vigorous state and federal action, regional planning, and maximum cooperation among neighboring cities, counties and states.” – Excerpt from 1968 Republican Party Platform

Jim Inhofe, Oklahoma’s senior Republican senator, just received the gavel of the Senate’s Committee on Environment and Public Works this year thanks to the GOP’s unqualified success in the 2014 midterm elections. In 2012, Senator Inhofe wrote a book titled The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Will Threaten Your Future. That same year, the GOP Platform stated the following: “Efforts to reduce pollution, encourage recycling, educate the public, and avoid ecological degradation have been a success.” A success? This misleading opinion completely undermines the severity of climate change.

So how did the conservative movement regress their climate change views since 1968? Simple: the Tea Party. As this movement proves, the conservative movement has shed its historical pro-business attitude for a staunchly pro-small government perspective. Current legislation that combats climate change is viewed by Tea Party conservatives as top-down; they fear it could potentially allow a stronger supranational body like the United Nations to override America’s Constitution. There appears to be no room for sustainable development within the conservative tent.

It is unlikely that conservatives will ever applaud or adapt policies that derive from the U.N. That being said, it does not mean that conservatism will never accept sustainable development. Green can be conservative, but it will take plenty of work to change this debate’s discourse. Many conservatives denounce big programs from the international community because they not only infringe on national sovereignty, but also threaten the supremacy of the U.S. Constitution. To allay these concerns, the environmental agenda should work within the existing boundaries of state and federal constitutions.

Conservatives also value fiscal sustainability, so why don’t they seem to value sustainable development? The case should be made that conservatism should equal conservation. Phrases such as “drill, baby, drill” impede on the belief that conservatives are responsible. If the Republican Party truly believes in family values, members would not promote the depletion of their children’s future resources. In addition, conservation and the promotion of alternative resources should be the main priority of the conservative agenda. Conservatives are not too fond of the dictators that define Middle Eastern politics, so why should a conservative continue to ride in a Saudi Arabian-fueled gas guzzler? Although hybrids may not be as much fun to drive, they do stand for energy independence.

President Nixon, a champion of environmental legislation, believed in balancing business with environmentalism, and that belief still exists today. One need look no further than Whole Foods, one of the major grocery stores in the United States, which has prioritized organic foods and sustainable production.

The CEO of Whole Foods, Walter E. Robb IV, is a prominent conservative. He realizes that there is a demand for sustainable products, and, as a result, his company supplies them. This is in keeping with the foundation of a free market. Although conservatives have acquainted the green movement with business regulation, this view can change. They are right to note that the Environmental Protection Agency, a Nixon creation, has enforced thousands of regulations upon businesses, both big and small, and yet they should realize the agency’s potential to encourage sustainable companies by providing subsidies. In addition, green business revitalizes the American manufacturing industry. New technologies that incorporate sustainable development will not be cheap to produce, but the American labor force can rise to this challenge. Truly, conservatism can be green.

The conservative movement and environmentalism have had a shaky relationship over the past century. Theodore Roosevelt was once the face of the conservation movement, but Dwight Eisenhower plainly didn’t care. Nixon attempted to combine a pro-business platform with a pro-green platform, while the current GOP almost unanimously believes that climate change is a non-issue. This evolution-devolution cycle has the potential to rebound. Not only are conservative business owners like Robb promoting sustainable development, but some Republican politicians have not shied away from the issue, like former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, although he was shunned from the Republican Party for doing so.

Clearly, there is still a lot of work to be done. That being said, there are some glimmers of hope. It’s evident that green business can thrive. Energy independence can be promoted. Green legislation can be constitutional. The Religious Right can become good stewards of the earth once again and place the Gospel’s message before alienating politics.

For this to happen, current environmentalists must not be wary of new members. For the past few decades, environmentalism has been viewed as a left-leaning issue. Therefore, green advocates must let more voices be heard, not fewer. The green movement has the potential to be a bipartisan issue, so liberal environmentalists must not be afraid to have a dialogue with their conservative counterparts. If Americans from all beliefs can put the fate of the Earth’s future as a main priority, real change can happen. If America begins to prioritize environmentalism, it can once again be the “Shining City on a Hill” for the rest of the world to follow.

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